Announcing the Ig Nobel free-tickets-to-the-2015-ceremony winner

November 26th, 2014

Earlier this year we announced that people who purchased a subscription to the Annals of Improbable Research between Sept 18 and Sept 30 would be entered in a drawing for 2 free tickets to next year’s (2015) Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

To ensure a fair drawing, we separated the duties of numbering the eligible entries and choosing a number to compare to that list.

We’re happy to announce the winner: Dan Muir of Williamston, Michigan. He writes:

“I am thrilled that I have finally won an award commensurate with my contributions to science! I heard of you through media coverage of the ig nobel prize over the last few years, and finally got around to looking at your website. At that point I was hooked. To have received such a prestigious award is simply icing on the cake.”

Dan has won 2 free tickets to the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

The 2015 ceremony will be the 25th First Annual ceremony. We hope to announce the exact date soon.

Thanks to all who entered!


Automatic gender spoof detection (make-up and mustaches)

November 26th, 2014

Some might take the view that if you use a camera-equipped laptop, tablet, or smartphone, or post your snaps to a social networking site, then various corporate or governmental organisations (or both) might be likely run an automated face-recognition algorithm on your photo(s). If you were to object to such practices, then you might choose to deliberately try and mislead the systems – say, by attempting to disguise (or ‘spoof’) your gender with a drawn-on mustache. Facial recgonition experts worldwide are aware of this, and are taking steps. See the work, for example, of Dr. Antitza Dantcheva, Ph.D, who is a Marie Curie fellow and Post-doctoral researcher in the Spatio-Temporal Activity Recognition Systems (STARS) team at INRIA Méditerranée in Sophia Antipolis, France.

Dr. Dantcheva has co-authored a number of papers which explore the possible effects of such trickery. e.g. ‘Impact of facial cosmetics on automatic gender and age estimation algorithms’, paper 341 in: VISAPP’14, the 9th International Conference on Computer Vision Theory and Applications, January 5-8, 2014, Lisbon, Portugal.

As part of the project, the team searched the Web and assembled a unique photo resource which they call the Makeup Induced Gender Alteration (MIGA) Dataset, including for example, female subjects with drawn-on mustaches (using Kohl*eyeliner)

“[…] we consider the use of facial cosmetics for (a) gender spoofing where male subjects attempt to look like females and vice versa, and (b) age alteration where female subjects attempt to look younger or older than they actually are. While such transformations are known to impact human perception, their impact on computer vision algorithms has not been studied. Our findings suggest that facial cosmetics can potentially be used to confound automated gender and age estimation schemes.“

They note that:

“While a subject may not use makeup to intentionally defeat the system, it is not difficult to envision scenarios where a malicious user may employ commonly-used makeup to deceive the system. Future work will involve developing algorithms that are robust to changes introduced by facial makeup.“

Further resources: provided by Dr. Dantcheva, The YMU (YouTube Makeup): VMU (Virtual Makeup): and MIW (Makeup in the “wild”): photo datasets (registration required)

*Note: A renowned proponent of Kohl eyeliner.

Also see: Progress in Fake-Finger Thwarting

Ig Nobel day-after-Thanksgiving broadcast on Science Friday

November 25th, 2014

Spread the word, please! On Friday, November 28, the Science Friday radio program will broadcast its specially edited recording of the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. It’s SciFri’s 23rd annual broadcast (SciFri began this day-after-Thanksgiving tradition in 1992, the Ig Nobel ceremony’s second year).

Listen to it on a public radio station, if you’re near one, or on the Internet. (Science Friday is broadcast as two separate, hour-long programs. The Ig Nobel broadcast comprises the entire first hour.)

The photos below, by Mike Benveniste, show the paper airplane deluge, a tiny, traditional part of the epic ceremony:



BONUS: Science Friday again asked journalist Carmen Nobel (yes, that is her name) to visit the Ig Nobel after-party. Nobel’s writeup, on the Science Friday site, is called “Who’s Got the Biscotti? Mingling at the Ig Nobel Awards After-Party“.

BONUS: Download your own copies of IgBill, the printed program for the 2014 ceremony, and the 2014 ceremony poster.

BONUS: From SciFri archives, here’s last year (2013)’s Ig Nobel broadcast.

BONUS: The special Ig Nobel 2013 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research

Dog lapping in the matrix

November 25th, 2014

A fluid dynamics approach to gaining understanding (adding to what’s known) of the way liquids are reliably transferred into the mouths of dogs and cats:

Dog lapping in the matrix,” presented at the 67th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics (November 23, 2014 — November 25, 2014), by Sean Gart (Virginia Tech) Jake Socha (Virginia Tech) Pavlos Vlachos (Purdue University), and Sunghwan Jung (Virginia Tech):

“Animals with incomplete cheeks (i.e. dogs and cats) need to move fluid against gravity into the body by means other than suction. They do this by lapping fluid with their tongue. When a dog drinks, it curls its tongue posteriorly while plunging it into the fluid and then quickly withdraws its tongue back into the mouth. During this fast retraction fluid sticks to the ventral part of the curled tongue and is drawn into the mouth due to inertia. We show examples of this drinking behavior and try to understand the relationship between tongue dynamics and geometry, lapping frequency, and dog weight. We also compare the results with a physical experiment of a rounded rod impact and withdrawal from a liquid bath.”

The researchers created a demonstrative video:


Rhodi Lee gives some additional details, in Tech Times.

(Thanks to Kerri Wachter for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for biology honored an ongoing attempt to determine the alignment of liquids as they transfer out the other end of dogs’ digestive systems.

“Facts are stupid things,” he would say, “until…”

November 25th, 2014

Richard Conniff writes, in the Strange Behaviors blog:

Look, Look, Look! A Lesson in the Art of Seeing

I’ve never been particularly fond of the nineteenth century naturalist Louis Agassiz, probably due to a time I was sitting in a library at Harvard and holding in my hands a letter he had written to his mother about his feelings on first seeing an African-American.  It was so appallingly racist, so naive, so entitled to an unwarranted sense of superiority that I actually gasped out loud.

But just now, I was looking over a book called Louis Agassiz as a Teacher, and I read this brilliant and almost endearing account of his methods.  Entirely beyond natural history, it is a very fine lesson in the art of seeing, and belongs in a category I should probably call “Valuable Lessons from Loathesome Men.”  It was written in 1874 by Samuel H. Scudder, a young entomologist who found himself being instructed, not altogether happily, by Agassiz, a very learned student of fish:


haemulonIt was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the Scientific School as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and, finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that, while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.

‘When do you wish to begin?’ he asked.

‘Now,’ I replied.

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic ‘Very well!’ he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol.

‘Take this fish,’ said he, ‘and look at it; we call it a haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen…” [read the rest on the Strange Behaviors site.